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Dave Carlock - A Day In The Life
LOCAL SUPPORT SERVICES A CHALLENGE FOR MUSIC MAKERS
Originally Posted: 10-10-2013 8:19 PM
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One of the challenges I encounter making records in Benton Harbor, MI is the lack of music support services. Any business needs solid suppliers, and short of overbuying stock, it's not uncommon to get caught in delays.

Simple things like guitar strings are usually on hand through one of the two small music stores in the area, but beyond that, you may be on your own. To make matters more challenging, the owner of one of the two local music stores took a few months off earlier in the year. It's almost like being on an expedition project in the wilderness—bring your supplies or go without!

With the switch to online purchasing of musical gear, even consumable parts like strings, picks, tubes, and other accessories are being sent via UPS. The nationwide solution seems to be Guitar Center, and I have them an hour away in four directions. But three hours spent to get a replacement vacuum tube for a guitar amp in a session? Not ideal!

Due to my locale, I recently went through an odyssey of sorts repairing my Class-A tube Standel Switchmaster-30 guitar head. After 10 years of service, its high-gain distortion channel went a bit haywire. Tubes are the first step in the trouble-shooting process but getting the tubes was another story altogether. Retubing an amp is about a $200 proposition with a small list of different tubes necessary to do the job, so smart trouble-shooting to avoid overbuying is the way most people start.

I was in the midst of tracking slide guitar tracks for Florida songwriter Larry Lange's new song “Man Up, Girl” when I found out I was down for the count. Any guitarist who uses high-gain tube amps will tell you, that tone is in the tubes, no other amps will do, so I was down till I could get my sound back. The slide guitar track had to be full out, take no prisoners, everything on 10-tone. I couldn't work around it this time, so the search began.

The Guitar Centers in two cities with populations of 75,000 and 100,000 didn't have the tubes I needed in stock. Wow. I was in shock. Luckily, with 190,000 in its population, Grand Rapids did. Believing the problem was not coming from the 12AX7 preamp tubes, I intended to replace the EL-84 power tubes and the 5AR4 rectifier tube to test, but Grand Rapids only had the EL-84s. Ok. It's a good start anyway. So off I went, and after 3 hours of round trip driving, I plugged in my tubes and was ready to resume production. Except… the new tubes didn't fix the problem. So I had to keep searching.

Another Guitar Center had the 5AR4 rectifier tube and some 12AX7 tubes just in case I was wrong about the preamp tubes being innocent. So off I went to store number two. This time, I took the guitar head and we tested the tubes in the amp. As it turned out, the problem still existed and wasn't the tubes at all.

And then the second act began: the search for an electronics repairman skilled in musical equipment. As it turned out, someone who watched my in-store amp trouble-shooting with interest suggested I take my amp over to a guy he knew named “Magic Sam”. No, I'm not making this up.

Magic Sam had a long history as a musical equipment technician, first at HSA Heather Sound and then at The Woodwind & The Brasswind, a store later closed after being purchased by Musician's Friend. Now he's working out of Hoosier Dad's Music in Mishawaka, still an hour from me, but I was glad to have a tip on someone who might be able to handle my task.

This is how these odyssey things work, you must understand. Going through the process of the journey, you're not supposed to get the solution right away or it wouldn't be an odyssey, would it? Then, if you're not paying attention, you'll miss it—the deux ex machina part. The part where your solution is dropped in your lap, mysteriously and unexpectedly, often by a person who likes to talk a little more than you'd like them to because you're so busy being frustrated by your odyssey. But THAT is the person who has the solution--watch for those people! They're the key, I'm telling you! That person was the onlooker at Guitar Center.

So I went to meet Magic Sam. I told him my session was down and he jumped on my problem right away. After an evening worth of trouble shooting and talking via phone to Danny McKinney, my friend and the genius designer of Standel Amps and Requisite Audio recording equipment, Magic Sam found the culprit in a failed capacitor at a highly critical part of the circuitry. One cap solved it all and saved me shipping my amp back to LA for repair. Magic Sam was fast, methodical in his analysis, got the blessing of the designer in California, and got me working again, all without a schematic.

To my immediate relief, I was back tracking my high-gain slide guitars again the next morning. But the best relief was knowing I'd found a new source of musical support in my crusade to make records for artists around the globe in Benton Harbor. That's the sweetest tone of all.

FIND A WAY MY FRIENDS
Dave Carlock
DAVE CARLOCK -
A DAY IN THE LIFE
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